Consumer law encompasses all of regulations and statutes which seek to create a more equitable balance between buyers in the marketplace and prevent sellers from using unfair tactics. The consumer is any person who purchases goods or services that may be sold by producers, wholesalers, or retailers.
Both state and federal laws play a role in regulation of consumer law. Such laws vary from prohibiting misleading advertisement to enforcing public product safety controls to govern debt recover practices and protecting consumers’ identifying information. Consumers often find themselves in need of legal aid after an online scam, purchasing a car or other product without being told of hidden defects, or losing money in financial schemes, such as identity fraud or fraudulent payments of credit card charges.
Need for a Consumer Protection Law in India
The growing interdependence of the world economy and the global nature of many business practices have led to the establishment of consistence focus on protection and promotion of consumer rights. Consumers, clients and investors all over the world, are demanding value for money in the form of quality goods and improved facilities. Modern technological developments have undoubtedly had a major impact on the quality, availability and safety of goods and services. However the fact of life is that the consumers are still targets of unscrupulous and exploitative activites. Consumer manipulation takes a variety of forms, such as adulteration of food, counterfeit medicines, excessive prices, low quality, deficient services, misleading advertising, hazardous goods, black marketing and many more. In addition, with the revolution in information technology, newer types of challenges are being thrown at consumers, such as cybercrimes, plastic money etc., which have an even greater impact on consumers. ‘Consumer is sovereign’ and ‘customer is the ruler’ in the current scenario are nothing more than myths especially in the developing societies. However, it has been recognized and rightly so that the Consumer protection is a socio- economic policy to be followed both by the government and by the business community as consumers satisfaction is in the interest of both. In this context, however, the government has a primary duty to protect the interests and rights of consumers through effective policy measures, legal structure and administrative structures.
Consumers are involved in the marketplace by using a particular product. Had there been no customer, there would have been no business. Consumer status is more or less pitiful as far as consumer rights are concerned. You may take examples of shopkeepers that weigh less than they should, the company’ making false information on packs. Local sweetmeat vendors adulterate raw materials to produce the laddoos or barfis. There was a case of dropsy due to adulterated mustard oil. No matter how bad quality you get, if you dare to complain, you’ll probably a rude response from the shopkeeper.
Who is a consumer?
Section 2(d) of the CPA defines “consumer” as a person who:
“(a) Buys any goods for a consideration which has been paid or promised or partly paid and partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment and includes any user of such goods other than the person who buys such goods for a consideration paid or promised or partly paid or partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment, when such use is made with the approval of such person, but does not include a person who obtains such goods for resale or for any commercial purpose;
(b) Hires or avails of any services for consideration which has been paid or promised or partly paid and partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment and includes any beneficiary of such services other than the person who hires or avails of the services for a consideration paid or promised, or partly paid and partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment, when such services are availed of with the approval of the first mentioned person but does not include a person who avails of such services for any commercial purpose. It may, however, be noted that “commercial purpose” does not include use by a person of goods bought and services exclusively for the purposes of earning his livelihood by means of self-employment.”
From the above definition, it can be observed that:
- The goods or services must have been purchased or hired or made available for a consideration which has been paid in full or in part or under a system of deferred payment scheme, i.e., in respect of hire-purchase transactions;
- The goods purchased should not be intended for resale or commercial purposes. Goods purchased by a dealer in the ordinary course of business and those which are to be supplied in the course of his business would be considered to be for re-sale;
- In addition to the purchaser(s) of products, or contractor(s) or user(s) of services, any beneficiary of such services, the recipient of goods/services with the consent of the contractor or provider will also be deemed to be a “consumer” under the Act.
Consumer Protection Act, 1986
It should be pointed out at the outset that anyone involved in the role of the movement of consumers must be well versed in the various laws and not only in the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. They should have knowledge of the laws relating to the Contract, Tort, Railways, Telegraphs, Telephones, Post, Air Travel, Insurance, Power, food, Housing, Motor Vehicles, Hotel Industry, Entertainment, Cooperative Societies, Tourism Agencies, Health care, Sales Tax, Central Excise, Limitation, and Transport etc. There are no restrictions to subjects that can be put before the Consumer Forum for the decision. In addition, laws relating to unfair market practices one should also be well versed. Take it as it may be. In India, numerous acts aimed at protecting the consumers from different types of exploitation have been enacted.
The Objectives of Consumer Protection Act, 1986 in India
The main objective of the Act is to provide for the creation of the Commission as follows:
· Avoiding activities having an detrimental impact on competition;
· Promote and sustain competition in markets;
· Defending the rights of consumers and
· Ensure the freedom of trade of other market participants in India
The primary focus of the Act is on the following areas:
· Prohibition of anti-competitive agreements;
· Prohibition against of dominant position;
· Regulation of combinations;
· Advocacy of competition policy.
Practices to be adopted by Business under the Consumer Protection Act
- If any fault is detected the seller will remove the mentioned defects from the whole lot or the products affected. For example, there have been cases where the car manufacturing unit identified a defect in parts of the vehicle usually removing the defect from each unit or calling the unit.
- They should substitute the faulty product with a non-defective product and that product should be in a similar condition or the same as the product bought.
Redressal: Three Tier System under Consumer Act
- District Forum: Such forums shall be formed by the district of the state concerned in each district, consisting of the President and two representatives; one of whom shall be a woman and appointed by the state Government. In this, the complaining party may not make a complaint more than 20 Lakhs and once the complaint has been lodge the products are sent for testing and if they found to be faulty, the accused party may compensate and if the party is dissatisfied may appeal to the state commission within 30 days.
- State Commission: This is established by each state It consists of the President and two members. Complains should be at least 20 lakhs and not more than 1 crore. Goods are submitted for inspection and, if found to be faulty, are asked for replacement or compensation. If not satisfied, an appeal may be lodged before the National Commission within 30 days. National Commission: Consisting of the President and four members. The complaint must be more than of 1 crore. Goods are sent for inspection and if considered faulty are demanded for replacement or compensation
The efficient and effective system of Consumer Protection is of special interest to all of us because we all are consumers. Perhaps the supplier or service provider of a service is a consumer of any other goods or services. When both the producers/ providers and consumers understand the need for co-existence, adulterated products, counterfeit goods and other defects in services may become a thing of the past. The need of the hour is for total commitment to the cause of the consumer and social responsiveness to consumer needs. Nevertheless, this should be achieved, in a harmonious manner so that our society becomes a safer place for all of us to live in.
- Consumer should work together to develop the power and leverage in order to support and protect their own interests.
- Government should make and implement rules of punishment more harsh so that manufacturers and shopkeepers think twice before implementing illegal practices.
- A campaign should be initiated to engage each and every consumer in making them more aware of their rights and obligations.
- Government and other consumer organizations must make efforts to promote and publicize the district forum, state and national judiciary established for consumer protection so as to make consumers more and more aware of the processes for their greater participation and to seek justice in event of complaints.
- Redress method should be made more rational, simple enough to be grasped by a significant number of customers. Further procedures shall be planned to enable easy handling and rapid disposal of cases.
Author: Kunal Gupta,
Jagran lakecity University